The Benefits of Art for the Elderly Population
Creativity is not only for the youth – the elderly population can benefit greatly from participating in creative activities such as the visual arts. According to a study published in Psychology Today (1) in 2009, the “aging brain is more distractible and somewhat more dis-inhibited than the younger brain.” That study showed that an elderly person was more likely be express more creative freedom than their younger counterpart. Like the creative mind, the aging mind shows that they are able to use their broadening focus to creatively problem solve – and that’s what creativity is all about. So shouldn’t there be more creative programs for the elderly population in our community? Absolutely! Art Nest Creative Studio (Art Nest) in collaboration with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are helping to engage our elderly community in art sessions. Between two to three times per month, a team from Art Nest visits one of the residential homes in the various districts of Grand Cayman and on Cayman Brac to lead an art session with the residents there. Participants who are eligible (over 65 years old) but not in a residential home, are transported to the Art Nest studio space for the art session. These sessions provide great benefits for the participants. The residents gain a renewed sense of purpose and enjoy socializing with new people, among other physical benefits they receive from taking part in the art session. Read on as we further explore the benefits of art for our elderly community.
Art Provides a Sense of Purpose
Can you imagine spending your entire adult life working only to have when you’re at a retirement age and older, to have most of your activities taken away? This would undoubtedly affect your mental well-being and your sense of purpose. Well this is exactly what the DCFS is protecting its residents again with the collaboration with Art Nest. Residents can look forward to our session as one of their activities that they have throughout the week. This improved sense of purpose can then be translated in other aspects of their well-being and attitude going forward. This is true for even those residents who were not creatively inclined when they were younger. One resident that we spoke to said the sessions that Art Nest provided was the first time that she did art but how much she looked forward to the sessions each time.
Art Improves Mood
Don’t just take our word for it, studies have shown that art has a positive impact on a person’s mood and outlook and can help to alleviate the symptoms of depression and sadness. In the American Journal of Public Health (2), one extensive study looked at “how the arts might be used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and alter behaviors and thinking patterns” and found positive results. Although the team at Art Nest does not provide therapy in the psychological sense, the mere act of assisting the residents through the carefully thought-out art sessions help the residents to explore their emotions in a safe, yet familiar environment. In one session, a resident painted a piece depicting the sky, the Brac and the sea. When asked what that painting signified for her, she happily recounted her years living on Cayman Brac and stories of her husband, whose culture was steeped in Cayman’s maritime heritage. It was evident from the smile on her face and the genuine joy in her voice that her mood had been lifted. And this all started from a simple painting!
Art Improves Range of Movement
The aging joints can easily become stuck in a certain range if not moved through that range regularly. The act of taking up a paint brush, mixing paint, reaching to apply paint on canvas (or desired paint surface) aids in improving and maintaining range of movement in the upper limbs. In general, as the residents look forward to the art sessions, they are encouraged to change positions (whether that be to sit more upright in their beds or to get dressed and move out of their rooms to the common area) to participate. This increase in movement can help with circulation throughout the body. It helps that the members of the art team have experience in dealing with the elderly, and do so with enthusiasm and care. For those residents who have impaired movements in their hands, they are assisted but also encouraged to be as independent as possible.
Art Helps to Prevent Against Social Isolation
One working definition of social isolation, as found in the book The Second Fifty Years: Promoting Health and Preventing Disability (3), can be described as “the absence of social interactions, contacts, and relationships with family and friends, with neighbors on an individual level, and with “society at large” on a broader level.” The residents have various programs which help to prevent again social isolation and the art sessions provided by Art Nest is one of them. The caretakers and nurses in charge at the senior residential homes, all attest to how talked about the sessions are even after the Art Nest team has left. Residents have been heard saying how great it was that a “young lady helped me to paint that [art].” The team provides not only an art instruction but conversation that helps to stimulate the residents’ minds and can further lead to creative thinking and problem solving. And as much as they love to tell tales of their youth, the Art Nest team loves to listen to all the anecdotes that they have to offer! It’s definitely a win-win situation for social interaction.
Aging shouldn’t only be about growing older – it should be about transitioning into other areas that the aging population can excel in. The creative field, such as visual arts, can provide much stimulation, social interaction as well as other physical and health benefits outlined above. Art Nest believes and fully supports providing our elderly population with ready access to creative art sessions. The residents do not need to have any prior experience in visual arts as our team will be with them every step of the way. We are definitely of the mind that creativity has no age – look at our very own Gladwyn K. Bush (AKA Miss Lassie) who started painting at the age of 62!
Carson, Shelly H., PhD; (2009) Creativity and the Aging Brain; Psychology Today; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/life-art/200903/creativity-and-the-aging-brain
Stuckey, Heather L., DEd, Nobel, Jeremy, MD, MPH; (2010) American Journal of Public Health; 100(2): 254-263
The Second Fifty Years: Promoting Health and Preventing Disability; Institute of Medicine (US) Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention; Berg RL, Cassells JS, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1992.